How to figure out what is Enough
I'm a greedy person. I consume. For decades I consumed to excess and felt the short term excitement and long term decay. I got fat. I spent my whole paycheck. Basically, I was normal.
The human animal is not good at knowing when we have enough. We are rapacious and opportunistic consumers. This is easy to see on a large scale. Look at the giant landfills dotting our landscapes. The multiple giant garbage patches, themselves the size of whole countries in the oceans are another testament. Our health in many countries around the world, including many here in the Gulf, as well as my own home country of the USA, is declining as our waistlines continuously expand into highly dangerous territory.
We evolved in conditions of scarcity. For hundreds of thousands of years, before the widespread development of agriculture, people never knew where their next meal would come from, or if there would be a next meal. In those conditions, it made sense to gorge ourselves, to get while the gettin’ is good, as they say. Those who were the best gorgers survived to pass on their genetic heritage, so over time, a hoarding mentality proliferated.
Enter the industrial revolution, the green revolution, and globalized capitalism. Suddenly, we can get 10,000 calories at the touch of a button on our phones. Amazon Prime and overnight delivery make it so we don’t even have to go to the store to get almost anything we can imagine with zero effort. Rising standards of living around the world allowed these conditions to expand to billions who previously didn’t have access to such plenty. Credit cards and easy access to loans of all sorts exacerbated the problem of consumption so that we could buy things we can’t even afford, consuming exponentially more resources and space.
For the first time, on a massive scale, the problem stops being deprivation, and starts being overabundance. This is not a situation we are well adapted to deal with. Evolution doesn’t work this quickly, on the scale of decades, and now we have environmental catastrophes and public health disasters like heart disease and type 2 diabetes rearing their ugly heads around us. During the time of COVID, having a co-morbidity caused by obesity makes the disease exponentially more deadly.
We simply don’t know when we have enough. Enough food, enough clothing, enough cars, boats, purses, shoes and luxury. It doesn’t help that the resources of massive corporations are arrayed against us finding out what our point of satiety is, so we keep consuming more and more, well past the point that’s good for us or the planet.
Our health, on an individual, community, and species level depends on us taking back that knowledge of “enough” and then overcoming our own evolution and capitalistic motivations in order to act on it. And it’s not an easy thing to figure out either, much less act on.
One key element that will allow us to see “enough” clearly is not comparing ourselves to others. There will always be someone who has more than us. Our pride can make us want what they have and more, especially if we consider ourselves more deserving than our point of comparison. Cutting out social media can help a bit, but we still drive down the road and see the innumerable luxury cars gliding by. We still see advertisements and movies and tv shows that all show “the good life” that is almost always centered around overconsumption and inspires us to do the same.
There are two other key ways to clearly see “enough”. The first is that we can run experiments in downsizing and see if we can get used to a self-imposed deprivation. For me, I went from a 1 bedroom apartment to a studio in a villa. I initially freaked out, but in a couple days, it became the new normal, and I enjoyed the boost to my income from cutting my rent in half. This is the key, make the change then give yourself a month or two to see how it feels. If you can’t deal with it, go back to your previous level of consumption.
The other way is to use mindfulness to investigate whenever we feel a strong desire to consume more. Ask why you are feeling a strong emotion connected to buying or eating. Give yourself honest answers. By examining your feelings and motivations mindfully and honestly, we take control over them, and they lose a lot of their power.
Getting a handle on this can help us get a grip on our health, our finances, and our environmental impact. We may not be perfect, but by learning how much is enough for us, we can do a lot better.
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